Magpies Love Mirrors

In 2008, the humble Eurasian magpie was shown to possess the ability of visual self-recognition when it passed the ‘mirror test’ with flying colours. Very few of us foresaw the myriad of impacts this discovery would have, not only in the evolution of understanding in the field of animal cognition, but also in the evolution of Cambridge comedy. Lo and behold, one long decade of waiting later, an exciting new comedy web series was conceived and released into the wild… The name? Magpies Love Mirrors.

Whatever the origins of the show’s esoteric title, I think these three words do actually tell us a lot about what this show is trying to do. Just like the mirror test, Magpies Love Mirrors demands a certain level of intelligence from its viewers, for this is certainly no run-of-the-mill television sketch show. All of the scenes are connected in one way or another (usually another) and creatively imagined transitions link adjacent scenes, while recurring characters and jokes pop up across the series in all sorts of unexpected places. Watching this show is like trying to navigate your way through a hall of mirrors, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

It is surreal humour at its finest... not easy-watching, but that’s exactly what makes it worth watching.

The impressive surrealist writing, courtesy of Noah Geelan, Will Bicknell-Found, and many others, acts as a flock of magpies ambushing you in this already perplexing hall of mirrors, as they playfully add layer upon layer of moreish disorientation into the mix. This process reaches its natural conclusion in a highly meta series finale, which is a ‘self-indulgent’ (their words, not mine) exploration of the fictional history of Magpies Love Mirrors. It is purposefully ridiculous, demonstrating a rich understanding of comedy history and a striking self-awareness of their place in it. They, too, pass the mirror test. It is surreal humour at its finest. In a nutshell, it’s not easy-watching, but that’s exactly what makes it worth watching.

Magpies Love Mirrors/ Youtube

This top-notch surrealist writing, bursting with hilarity though it is, would not have been quite so meaningful had it not been brought to life so stunningly. It’s no exaggeration to say that the show is a hugely impressive on the production front, and this is a big part of what gives it such a fresh, slick, and ‘online’ feel. There simply isn’t space here to name every success in this regard, but the cinematography is particularly impressive. The visual effects are innovative, the camera-work is creative, and the instances of explicit visual comedy are all pulled off very convincingly.

Magpies Love Mirrors has contributed a momentous and much-welcome chapter in the evolution and expansion of comedy in Cambridge.

The score, in tandem with well-timed (often hilarious) sound effects, also provides a near-perfect accompaniment to the visuals. It’s also worth saying that the quality of editing on all fronts is solid, with attention to detail being a recurring theme. All of this becomes all the more impressive when you know the show was made on a ‘shoestring’ budget, not that you’d have an inkling from watching it. Artful direction and vision from Rowan Hall Maudsley must have been crucial in pulling all of this together.


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The final element that makes Magpies Love Mirrors such a special show is the strength and malleability of its cast. Attention to detail is very prevalent here, too, in both the excellent casting of particular characters, and in the acting itself, which is of a high calibre. Some of the performances are truly outstanding. I think it says a lot about the show that even some of its simplest lines (‘stop right there’, ’it’s my birthday’, and ‘egg’ come to mind) are delivered with such flair that they’re transformed into moments of hilarity. All of these moments are, of course, given a significant boost by the wondrous quality of production.

By tapping into a pre-existing ensemble of student talent and bringing the best out of it, Magpies Love Mirrors has contributed a momentous and much-welcome chapter to the evolution and expansion of comedy in Cambridge. Long may it continue, in this way and in many others, too. The fact the series was delivered entirely by a bunch of students means it would be all too easy to underestimate what an impressive feat this show really is. In fact, the series is of such a quality that I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t get some serious attention beyond Cambridge. But, of course, all I can say for sure is that magpies everywhere will love it.

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